B.C. scrutinizing school COVID safety plans, as BCTF warns WorkSafeBC claims up 250%

·3 min read
The six rapid response teams, created with $900,000 in funding, will conduct physical and virtual inspections of schools across the province to ensure health and safety guidelines are being consistently followed. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
The six rapid response teams, created with $900,000 in funding, will conduct physical and virtual inspections of schools across the province to ensure health and safety guidelines are being consistently followed. (Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside says six new rapid response teams will help schools in B.C. identify gaps in COVID-19 safety plans to help reduce exposure risk.

The government says in a statement the teams will work with staff at schools, school districts and health authorities to review significant exposures to the virus.

They will review school or district safety plans and policies, assist in their implementation and make recommendations for improvements when needed.

"For example, we have the team in Surrey on the ground this week working with the schools in that area that are experiencing exposures," said Whiteside, speaking Wednesday on CBC's The Early Edition.

The teams will also help schools and districts with communication plans.

A student at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C. on Feb. 1 where an exposure event caused concerns about transmission of COVID-19 variants.
A student at Garibaldi Secondary School in Maple Ridge, B.C. on Feb. 1 where an exposure event caused concerns about transmission of COVID-19 variants.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

The provincial government is spending $900,000 in federal funding to support one team for each health authority and a separate team to help independent schools.

Whiteside says gaps in safety plans and, in some cases, their implementation, including classroom configuration problems and the sharing of supplies, have been identified through reviews of cases of exposure.

"We know that when our safety plans in schools are in place and being adhered to and we don't have any gaps in those safety plans, we know that is when our schools are safest,'' she said on Tuesday.

Funding for the teams was announced in the first week of February.

A lead school district has been selected for each health region and in Fraser Health, where outbreaks have been concentrated, the Education Ministry says there has also been additional support.

Lead school districts include Surrey for the Fraser Health region, Nanaimo-Ladysmith for Island Health, Central Okanagan for Interior Health, Peace River North for Northern Health and Vancouver for Vancouver Coastal Health.

Jennifer Whiteside , B.C.'s minister of education at a news conference in Victoria in December 2020.
Jennifer Whiteside , B.C.'s minister of education at a news conference in Victoria in December 2020.(Mike McArthur/CBC)

WorkSafeBC claims from staff soar

In a Monday statement, the B.C. Teachers' Federation said WorkSafeBC data shows a 250 per cent increase in occupational COVID-19 infection claims in the education services sector since early December, intensifying B.C. teachers' calls for enhanced safety protocols in schools.

According to the statement, the number of claims from the sector is second only to health care.

BCTF President Teri Mooring says the province can and should be doing more to protect educators and school staff from COVID-19.
BCTF President Teri Mooring says the province can and should be doing more to protect educators and school staff from COVID-19. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

"There is a lot more government, health officials and school districts can do to improve protections for teachers. It's time for them to act," said BCTF president Teri Mooring in a statement.

The BCTF says the increase in claims suggests teachers working in a classroom environment are at a a significantly greater risk of exposure to COVID-19 compared to other workers.

"Anytime we're seeing an increase in WorkSafe claims and in a worksite that is concerning," agreed Whiteside. "What is really important is that we all do our part to ensure that we minimize transmission of COVID in our communities, because that is what will make our schools safe."

LISTEN | B.C. Education Minister, Jennifer Whiteside, on the role of rapid response teams: